President Muhammadu Buhari has been widely criticised for saying his wife, Aisha, belongs in his kitchen and living room, in response to the first lady’s public criticism of the president’s appointments.
In an interview with BBC, Aisha Buhari said the president had abandoned those who worked to bring him to power, and suggested the government had been hijacked by a few individuals who now wield sweeping powers.
“He is yet to tell me —if he’ll seek re-election— but I have decided as his wife, that if things continue like this up to 2019, I will not go out and campaign again and ask any woman to vote like I did before,” Mrs. Buhari warned. “I will never do it again.”
The president responded during a joint press conference with German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, in Berlin on Friday, saying his wife should be taking care of his kitchen, living room and the “other room” —meaning his bedroom.
“I don’t know which party my wife belongs to, but she belongs to my kitchen and my living room and the other room,” Mr. Buhari was quoted by the Associated Press as saying.
Mr. Buhari also said he had superior wisdom over his wife and other people who oppose his policies because he had been able to win an election after many years of trying.
“So I claim superior knowledge over her and the rest of the opposition, because in the end I have succeeded,” Mr. Buhari said. “It’s not easy to satisfy the whole Nigerian opposition parties or to participate in the government.”
In her reaction, Abiodun Olujimi, a female senator from Ekiti State, said President Buhari’s comment was in a “very bad taste” and even more frightening that he said it while visiting Mrs. Merkel.
“The statement is in bad state. In a very bad state,” Ms. Olujimi said. “Especially because he was saying it beside one of the most powerful women in the world. That makes it very offensive and very nasty.”
Ms. Olujimi, whose gender equality bill is making progress in the Senate, said President Buhari had become notorious for his embarrassing gaffes in foreign land, saying she and other women groups were working on a response to the latest remarks.
“The president is the biggest diplomat a country can have. But we have a president that cannot weigh word —especially outside— but instead allowed emotions to becloud good thoughts. That is not in any way acceptable.
“We won’t disparage the president. We won’t bring him down before the world. But, of course, we would look inward and see how we can handle the situation,” Ms. Olujimi said.
The social media has also been pounding Mr. Buhari for the comments, with the attacks coming even more from his supporters than critics.
Kayode Ogundamisi, a social commentator and activist, said the president’s views were not compatible with modern ideas.
“The president should know that his distorted thinking that Nigerian women or any woman for that matter belong in the bedroom or kitchen is unacceptable,” Mr. Ogundamisi said in a statement.
“And if the president finds it funny, it is not the kind of joke that the President of any country should be engaged in.
“The president should know that the world has indeed moved on and that.
“Women play a very key role in our society.”
Mr. Ogundamisi, who backed Mr. Buhari during the 2015 election, demanded an immediate apology from Mr. Buhari for his comments, which he said constituted an embarrassment to Nigeria.
“The president should apologised to Nigerians especially as his statement was made during an international engagement standing next to the German Chancellor Angela Markel. The president’s view on women and wife belongs to the cave era and not the modern world. As a supporter I find it embarrassing that the best reply the Nigerian president can give to criticism by his wife is to respond in such a sexist and misogynist fashion,” he said.
Another Mr. Buhari’s supporter who criticised him for the controversial remarks was Japheth Omojuwa.
“I am not a fan of publicly hitting those you have access to privately, but @MBuhari’s response is shocking and embarrassing,” Mr. Omojuwa said. “What happened to ‘this is a matter between myself and my wife and we know how to deal with our differences: away from prying eyes’”.
Some critics of the president unearthed past statements made by former first lady, Patience Jonathan, where she said women should no longer be confined to the kitchen.
“Nigerian women should no longer go back to the kitchen. It is not our portion to go back to the kitchen,” Mrs. Jonathan said while campaigning for her husband in Abia State ahead of the 2015 election. “We have women that are capable. We can contribute our quota to the development of Nigeria.”
A social media enthusiast, Abang Mercy, circulated Mrs. Jonathan’s statement on Twitter and said Mr. Buhari’s comments marked the “height of chauvinism from a president”.
“He just reinforced existing stereotypes especially in Northern Nigeria,” she said.
Presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu, downplayed the president’s comment Friday, saying, “He was obviously throwing a banter”.
Some Nigerians agreed.
The president of National Association of Women Journalists, Ify Omowole, said Mr. Buhari’s comments were jokes because he said so.
“The president has come out to say it was a joke. I accepted it as a joke. The president has a right to joke and the fact that he’s a president doesn’t mean he can’t crack jokes,” Ms. Omowole said.
Ms. Omowole said the culture had defined roles of women to include going to the kitchen, but added that that would not limit them from achieving their potentials.
“The culture has defined our role as going to the kitchen but that doesn’t mean we’re not excelling in our roles,” Ms. Omowole said.